“Hello. How are you?” “Fine. How are you?” Some version of this rote greeting happens at the beginning of almost every conversation around the workplace. That brief interaction serves as the whole mental and physical health check-in before diving into the business at hand. Whether the dialogue is in person or via video conference, the basic greeting hasn’t changed in decades.
As the pandemic begins to lose its deadly grip, questions loom in its aftermath about the long-term impact on — just about everything. Back to the office? Work from home? Some hybrid model? What about the unused office space and its lease? The logistical questions facing business leaders are vast.
But when considering the pandemic’s effect on their workforce, businesses are quite reasonably concerned with the myriad physical health challenges facing their employees. From my perspective, it is equally important to consider the mental well-being of our team members.
There is some disagreement about whether the pandemic causes the uptick in mental illness diagnoses or whether they were there all along, and the pandemic made them more obvious. Chicken or egg? It doesn’t really matter. We are here now, and what we are seeing may just be the tip of the mental health iceberg. According to some experts, more than half of all Americans struggle with mental health due to the impact of Covid-19.
I want to encourage leaders to take a deeper dive into how the workplace impacts mental health and what resources are available to meet the growing need for mental illness services. Like most taboo subjects, the de-stigmatizing of mental illness starts with acknowledgment, conversation, and listening with an open heart. Mental health is directly intertwined with physical wellness. Most of us have little difficulty supporting an employee with a broken ankle, a migraine, or some other physical malady.
When it comes to mental illness, people are often afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. It is not necessary to become a therapist to be supportive of someone struggling with their mental health. Doing the work to understand the conversations around mental health today is the first step. Resources on the topic are abundant. The CDC publishes an extensive list of tools for Mental Health in the Workplace. The job before us is more significant than what most companies offer in a standard benefits package. The people who are struggling are OUR people. They need us, and we need them.
It’s time to get serious about mental health.
“How are you? No. Really. How are you?”